I love to cook. I love putting freshly made food on the table for my family and knowing what all the ingredients are. At the same time, I’m busy. We have three small kids, I own my own business, I teach classes at the University level and I’m writing a book. So time savers are very attractive to me.
Combine this with our quest to cut back expenses and pay off all non-mortgage debt and you’ll find I REALLY like things that save time and money.
One of the things I’ve been experimenting with lately is how I use meat in our meals. Meat is one of the single biggest expenses in most people’s grocery budgets and as Americans, we eat way more of it than we need to. One of my goals has been to introduce more vegetarian meals, (i.e. Spinach Manicotti, Roasted Tomato Pasta with Goat Cheese) but another has been to make more casseroles.
Casseroles are a great way to stretch meat further because you get the satisfaction of eating meat, but you aren’t sitting down and looking at a tiny slab of protein on your plate wishing it was larger.
Of course the biggest problem with chicken based casseroles is the need for “diced, cooked chicken.” I used to solve this problem by stewing a whole chicken every now and then, then painstakingly pulling every last bit of meat off the bones. Of course that would result in enough chicken for one or two meals.
Then last year, my sister-in-law surprised the heck out of me by poaching boneless skinless chicken breast in water with herbs, salt and some veggies.
“Eww…it will be dry and stringy!” I scolded her.
“No it won’t,” she countered.
And she was right. In fact, it was amazing. Juicy, succulent, and almost no work.
I’ve never looked back.
Now it goes a little something like this…
Mr W and I make a run to Sam’s Club and I spot boneless skinless chicken breast on sale for anywhere from $1.69 to $1.99 a pound. I buy 6 pounds worth and bring it home.
I dump it into a giant stock pot, add the celery tops I save when I dice up celery each week, toss a few carrots and a leftover onion in, add some parsley from my herb pot, throw in a clove or two of garlic and then add some salt and whatever herbs I feel like. (Usually Thyme, Basil and Sage.) Then I add 2-3 chicken boullion cubes and enough water to cover it.
This whole process takes about 5 minutes.
I put it on the stove, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and let it cook for about 2 hours. (Check with a meat thermometer to make sure the meat is done.)
I fish out the breasts with tongs and set them on a cookie sheet for 15 minutes to cool. Then I put the lid back on the pot and let it simmer for another two hours. This reduces the stock and increases the flavor, giving me chicken stock that’s usable as broth. (If you don’t reduce it, the broth is too weak to add flavor to anything.)
Once the breasts have cooled, I dice them up and divide them into freezer bags in either 2 cup or 4 cup measurements. Once the stock is done, I divide this up and store 2 cup measurements in freezer bags as well.
For the 6 pounds of chicken above, I ended up with:
2 – 4 cup bags of chicken
2 – 2 cup bags of chicken
3 – 2 cup bags of stock
1 – 1 cup of leftovers which I used to make some chicken broccoli alfredo pasta for Mr W’s lunch with.
That’s five meals worth of chicken breast, not counting leftovers…plus three bags of stock from $12 worth of chicken and ingredients that were sitting in my fridge/pantry anyway. That works out to $2.40 worth of meat per meal.
Plus, it gives me a ton of emergency meal back-up options. At the last minute I can whip up chicken alfredo, chicken noodle soup, throw chicken into my manicotti, make chicken fried rice, chicken quesadillas, chicken soft tacos, etc.